President Obama’s plan to carry out a new round of nuclear-warhead cuts will be announced soon, U.S. officials say.
The coming round of warhead-reduction talks with Russia was put on hold partly as a result of the Senate delay in confirming Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel, an outspoken proponent of the Global Zero anti-nuclear weapons group that called in a report last year for radical denuclearization steps.
According to one defense official, the president will propose that the United States and Russia initiate talks aimed at reaching a further one-third cut from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) target level of 1,150 deployed warheads.
That could leave the United States with about 1,000 warheads, a level that many in the military and defense communities say would weaken strategic nuclear deterrence that has kept the peace for more than 50 years. It also would take place at a time when Russia and China are modernizing or expanding their nuclear arsenals.
Asked about the coming cuts, a White House official told Inside the Ring: “Nothing to announce.” The official then referred to Mr. Obama’s statements in Seoul in March. The president said at the nuclear summit there he thinks the United States can maintain a strong deterrent and “still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal.”
In the months ahead, the president said he would “continue to seek discussions with Russia on a step we have never taken before — reducing not only our strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve.”
The summit was also the site of the now-famous conversation overheard on an open microphone when Mr. Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that, after his re-election, Moscow could expect more flexibility toward Russian demands to limit U.S. missile defenses. Russia has been demanding those limits as a precondition for further warhead cuts.
Rose Gottemoeller, the acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, was in Moscow last week for talks that included discussion of the new arms cuts.
Ms. Gottemoeller traveled to Moscow a day after two Russian nuclear-capable Tu-95 Bear H bombers made an unusual long-range strike-simulation flight over the western Pacific island of Guam on Feb. 12.
It was the third flight near U.S. airspace by Tu-95s since June. Two Bears flew close to the California coast on July 4, and in June, two strategic bombers made passes near Alaska in what a Russian general said at the time were simulated strikes against U.S. strategic missile-defense bases.
THREAT GROWS IN AFRICA
U.S. intelligence officials say the center of gravity for al Qaeda’s global jihad has shifted from South Asia and the Middle East. The new battleground: Africa.
Plans are under way to shift intelligence and military resources to the African continent, where al Qaeda is moving into large, ungoverned areas. The terrorist network also is expanding its influence and operations within the Muslim Brotherhood-governed Egypt and neighboring Libya, where the interim government is struggling to maintain order as hundreds of local militias, many of them Islamist and al Qaeda sympathizers, control large parts of the country.
“Terrorists already are in eastern Africa,” one U.S. official said of the trend. “Now they are moving west.”
Of immediate concern is Mali, where French troops were dispatched last month to oust terrorists linked to the offshoot al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which is becoming more active in North Africa and central Africa in recent months.